Saturday, August 22, 2015
When I was about seven, eight, or whatever age qualifies for third grade, I saw an ad for synthetic hair on the back cover of my comic book.
"Feels and looks JUST LIKE REAL HAIR!" and "They'll think your hair grew OVERNIGHT!" and "NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW it's not yours."
Not a full wig, but per the illustration, a braid as long as my arm and twice as thick; priced at something extremely reasonable -- maybe $2 or $3.50? -- doable, if you hoarded your allowance, which I did.
(I didn't hoard like Scrooge, of course. Or DeeAnne Hartshorne. Her father owned a plumbing business and every night poured his spare change into her giant pickle jar, sometimes dollar bills, too. This money she never spent; the pickle jar was an art installation, one her friends were called upon to admire and total at least once a month. This we did, not because we liked DeeAnne, but because she had a pony. "Hey DeeAnne, let's count it later, after we ride Thunderball.")
At this tender age, my observational, anecdotal research indicated that little girls fell into two categories: Those with long silken locks which a mother would wash, condition, brush, ponytail, pigtail, braid; and those like me who got a quarterly shearing by interns -- or convicts for all I know -- at a local beauty college, freshman class.
I begged my mother to let me grow my hair long, but she claimed, given its texture, cowlicks, and kink, I'd look like a sheepdog. In retrospect, I see her point. But in retrospect, I also see mine.
Eight-year old kids don't have bad hair days, eight-year old kids just have hair and days.
But it wasn't really about the hair, not entirely, anyway. This was one in a series of losing battles for a square-inch of self-determination, and long-hair territory seemed worth a fight.
In elementary school, I always chose a seat in the back of the classroom. Shy? Hardly. I was the annoying child waving her arm, exploding with all the answers. "Meeeeee, call on meeee!" I sat in the last row because if I couldn't be the teacher and see all the faces, then at least I could see all the backs. Which led, contributed to my long-hair obsession.
My friend Kim, for instance, had golden tresses that fell to her waist. Every time she sat down, her back and chair held her hair hostage so she'd have to fling her wrist behind her neck to free it from captivity.
My other friend Lynne had a ponytail situated high on her crown and it would whip around in a dramatic, poetic fashion every time she turned her head. "Whoosh, whoosh," it whispered, when on the journey from left shoulder to right. Oh, how I ached with envy.
So while I did listen and learn multiplication, long division, e.e. cummings, Pippi Longstocking, Native American history, my attention switched regularly between the lessons and admiration for breathtakingly beautiful hair. Hair that could have been, should have been, mine.
Back to the braids. They came in three colors -- black, brown, and blonde. I selected Blonde, and, throwing caution to the wind, sent for two, then anxiously awaited for the box (heavy box, maybe two pounds, I reckoned, to contain them both). According to the advertisement, important beauty tips along with attachment apparatus would be included at no extra charge.
I told no one of my plan, let them all be surprised when I transformed from short to long hair OVERNIGHT. I stalked the mailbox all week.
Turns out, my braids didn't need a box at all. The two wizened offerings fit neatly into one slim envelope. And they didn't feel and look so much like REAL HAIR as real kitchen twine, and the most important beauty tip was not to wear my braids near an open flame.
Did I wear them? Just a couple of times, in the privacy of my bedroom. I swung my head from side to side, hoping for a Whoosh, or at least a whoos, or a whoo.
After a week, I lost interest in my braids, and my attention shifted from glamour to scientific observation, experimentation, and validation. I took my braids to the stove, and switched on the burner.
I'd like to say the braids taught me something -- that personal power, control over one's own destiny, isn't a matter of hair or anything external in general, or that one shouldn't envy friends when they have something you lack. Or that a high octane imagination will never make something out of nothing.
But what I really learned was that the manufacturer wasn't kidding about the open flame. And a dish rag won't remove soot from walls, and it's hard to explain your innermost thoughts and philosophical ideas to a mother when her kitchen is smoking.
I learned that life's lessons may cost more than one's original estimate. There might be hell to pay.